Friday, December 31, 2010

December 30: Gift

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year? (Author: Holly Root)

I've been thinking about this prompt ever since it was posted yesterday and haven't been able to come up with anything good. So I'm going to cop-out a little bit on this one and say the best give I have received this year is patience. See, I'm a very impatient person. If things don't go my way, I immediately become very frustrated and pissy.

I appreciate the patience of my friends and family whenever I get like this. And I also appreciate when they tell me "stop it." It really puts me in check. I am working hard on improving this quality about myself, and the patience of those close to me really helps.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Open Letter to the Woman Furiously Popping Her Zits in the Locker Room Mirror

Inspired by McSweeney’s open letters to people are entities who are unlikely to respond.

When I first joined the gym many moons ago, I was meek in the locker room. While woman of all ages and shapes and sizes unabashedly changed in front of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors, I scurried to the bathroom to do my changing in the privacy of a stall. But, due to my laziness and gradual nonchalance about other women critiquing my body (I know they do it to me because I do it to them), I was soon enough changing out in the open with the best of them.

This was a major hurdle for me to overcome, and I can only hope to one day achieve that all you have. Some women – usually of the quite old variety – watch television or sit in the hot tub in the nude. Others do their makeup or hair while wearing nothing but skimpy towels. I admire these women. But I admire you more. You, who has the confidence and spunk to put your face centimeters from the mirror and pop your zits onto it. You have turned the athletic club locker room into your personal dressing table! Where did you learn to care so little about your environment or respecting the people in it?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December 29: Defining Moment

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Describe a defining moment or series of events that has affected your life this year. (Author: Kathryn Fitzmaurice)

In my last post, I talked about my strive to achieve things. What was the most frustrating about being unemployed for seven months was 1. I wasn’t achieving what I wanted to professionally and 2. I was so focused on achieving #1 that I couldn't concentrate on achieving anything else. So I guess the job offer turned the tables and defined the rest of 2010 for me.

The idea of defining my whole year by that one thing leaves a really bad taste in mouth. It feels long ago and the excitement has faded. I am disappointed that I have nothing better to show for myself since then. Maybe I do, but nothing as huge. Boo and hiss. This prompt is making me feel like a failure, and I don't even know why.

December 28: Achieve

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today. (Author: Tara Sophia Mohr)

Earlier this year, everyone in my office took a personality assessment for some team-building workshops. Based on our answers, everyone received a list of their top five "strengths." My number one strength was Achiever:

Your Achiever theme helps explain your drive. Achiever describes a constant need for achievement. You feel as if every day starts at zero. By the end of the day you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself … After each accomplishment is reached, the fire dwindles for a moment, but very soon it rekindles itself, forcing you toward the next accomplishment. Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you.

And so on and so forth. Now that I read the description, it kind of terrifies me. It makes me sound like a workaholic weirdo who doesn't know how to have a good time. That's not true. But this does describe me really well. I just met a couple college friends for breakfast last weekend and was telling them how I didn't feel like I had achieved anything in the past year. "BETSY YOU GOT A JOB," Lauren the ever positive, said. "THAT IS AMAZING!!" (yes Lauren speaks in all caps). But that was eight months ago. For an Achiever, eight months is a long time to go without achieving a lots more things.

Of course I have things I would like to do in 2011. I would like to do a triathlon, touch my toes and do a handstand. I would like to speak more French. I would like to read more books. I would like to write more. I would like to take a couple more trips. I would like to find more meaningful volunteer work. I would like to save more money with coupons. I would like to be better at thrifting. There isn't one thing I would like to achieve the most. I want it all.

And, if I were to accomplish every single thing on my list, I know exactly how I would feel: incomplete and eager to find something else to achieve. It sounds pathetic, that I am never able to appreciate my successes because I always have to move to the next thing. Do I strive to achieve things simply for the sake of achievement? Or are these things I actually want to achieve?

So maybe I should work on NOT achieving things this year. But I know that won't happen. It would be a waste of a year of my life. Instead of ten thoughts I shall try to concentrate on one, and that will be to feel satisfied with all that I've accomplished.

December 27: Ordinary Joy

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year? (Author: Brené Brown)

I’ve been eying the climbing wall at my gym since I joined this summer. When I was in college, I got into climbing for a bit and invested in my own shoes, harness, chalk bag and belay device. A few months ago, I brought all my equipment from my parents’ house with the intention of getting back into climbing. But it all just sat in my closet for awhile.

I don’t know what was holding me back. I wasn’t scared or nervous. Maybe I just didn’t feel like adding yet another physical activity to my life, which already includes biking, swimming, yoga and sometimes running. But I finally decided gather up my equipment and head to the wall about a month ago.

I surprised myself by how easily I remembered all the knots. And although I hadn’t climbed in a few years, I figured I would do okay since all my yogaing and swimming might have done something for my upper body strength and endurance. Wrong, apparently.

I climbed a little bit up the wall, and then I got to this 90-degree jutty outy ledge and absolutely didn’t have the strength to pull myself over it. Then I tried again the next week. And I still wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t until my third or fourth week that I was able to pull myself up to get my feet and hands in the right position and get over the ledge.

Maybe I didn’t feel pure and ordinary what-does-this-even-mean joy. But I felt accomplishment. I couldn't do this one thing. I kept trying. And then I could do it. Neat.

Also, I realized during my swim earlier this week that I could breathe every four strokes instead of every two strokes for a longer time and wasn't totally out of breath. That isn't as exciting though because that is quite possibly one of the dumbest accomplishments ever.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Family Christmas Far from Home

I had never missed Christmas at home. But I was 4,145 miles away in Paris. So instead I took the train to Thionville, a commune in northeastern France, where I would spend Noël with Jessica and her family.

Although I was not one of Jessica’s closest friends, her family welcomed me like one. To Strasbourg to visit the holiday markets and to try flammenküche! To Nancy to sightsee and sample macarons! Back home to warm up with raclette! By the night of December 25, I had Jessica to thank for a crash-course in local cuisine and culture. It was finally time for Christmas dinner, which Jessica said would start late and last until the wee hours of the morning. Père Noël might even stop by before the night’s end.

The servings were small but rich. In between the brioche stuffed with foie gras and compote and the oysters, there were frequent breaks to rest, to drink, to smoke and to laugh. We drank the wine I brought as a gift, and I explained how I had picked out the bottle by copying some French wine connoisseurs at the supermarket. My French storytelling wasn’t perfect, but no one acted like they noticed.

When the final desserts hit the table, I was happy and full. As I sleepily enjoyed my slice of bûche de Noël, I felt just like one of the family. In a foreign country and far from home, this feeling was nothing short of extraordinaire.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

December 26: Soul Food

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul? (Author: Elise Marie Collins)

Photo by Louis Beche.

First things first. Let’s talk macarons. No, not macaroons. Macarons. They’re like little cookie sandwiches, but comparing them to cookies might be insulting. Macarons take great care, patience and know-how to prepare and bake. If you eat a just-okay macaron, you’ll easily forget the experience. But if you bite into a perfect macaron, with its eggshell-fine crust and sweet melt-in-your mouth inside, you will understand what all the fuss is about.

It’s best to pay big bucks to eat a professionally made macaron because making them is quite complex and difficult, especially for common folk. The best place to get them is Paris, most say at Ladurée, a Parisian tea salon and pastry shop. But my aunt, my mom and I weren’t in Paris. And we like to bake. So we decided to have a shot at making our own macarons.

The afternoon spent processing our own almond flour, tracing macaron-sized circles on parchment paper, whipping egg whites to the exact and perfect consistency and trying to decipher French recipes (I’m the worst at translating recipes and menus. French has so many words for eating and preparing food, and I don’t know half of them) was only kind of about the macarons. It was more an excuse for us to experiment together with something we all enjoy. We joked that if the macarons turned out horribly, we’d give them away to people we didn’t like.

And the first few batches DID turn out horribly. The macarons were crunchy, which equals failure. But then my aunt discovered where we had gone wrong – something with the almond flour proportions. And they started turning out better and better. I might go so far as to say they turned out good! Not Paris good, but still pretty good.

For me, making French macrons with my mom and aunt was and continues to be the perfect example of why Chicago is the right place for me right now. For someone so obsessed with France and its culture, you’d think I’d have moved there for good already. But the people I love are here in Chicago. And that is why – for now at least – I’ll take making my own imitation macarons with my family over eating a real Ladurée one in Paris.

December 25: Photo

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. (Author: Tracey Clark)

In my world, “Sift through all the photos of you from the past year” means “look at all the photos on Facebook in which you were tagged in over the past year.” So I did that. And what I was looking for is one that shows me as skinny as I want to be, as happy as I want to be, with as good of hair as I want and probably in a fun place with fun people so I have a good story to tell.

Of course that photo doesn’t exit. And it’s not because it couldn’t have. It’s because my friends and I never take any freaking pictures.

When I was in France, I took all kinds of pictures. Living in Paris is very exotic. I know people who were living in Korea, Berlin and Jordan over the past year. They took all kinds of pictures. Because they are living in far away countries and we all want to see what their lives are like.

But Chicago? We feel our lives are mundane, so we never take pictures. But that isn’t true! Chicago rocks. Why haven’t I taken any pictures of the parties we’ve had, the festivals and concerts we’ve been to, the family dinners we’ve cooked? I'm going to work on fixing that in 2011. Stay tuned.

But for the purpose of this prompt, I guess this is my favorite photo of me from the past year. It was taken by photographer Glitter Guts at a Gemini Club show at Metro a few months ago.

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 24: Everything's OK

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead (Author: Kate Inglis)

Somewhere around this time last year, I had to convince myself that everything would be all right even though I wasn’t sure it would be.

I was so stressed out by looking for a job. All I did when I wasn’t working in a t-shirt warehouse or writing articles for pathetic paychecks was look for jobs, write cover letters and network with people who might be able to help me out. It was so demoralizing, especially because I had left a good thing in Paris to come back to absolutely nothing. I had been at it for a couple months.

I had a panic attack or something. One day, as I was writing a cover letter, my chest tightened up, I had trouble catching my breath, and I had to lie down. I made myself NOT do anything job-related for the rest of the day. It was hard to sit on the couch and watch TV, but I realized that for an afternoon, I needed to not think about this one thing.

And that’s kind of when I realized I needed to start telling myself more often that everything would be all right. That finding a job wasn’t everything. Well, it was. But I needed to think about other things, because concentrating 156 percent on something so hopeless and so out of my control was making it difficult to breathe.

I decided I would not be defined by the job I didn’t have. I began volunteering. I started writing for Chicagoist. I started training for a half marathon (well I pretended to). I made new friends at all my odd jobs. I went to listen to literary readings.

It wasn’t until four months later that I was offered job. And that whole time, everything was really okay. I became better at interviews and writing kick-ass cover letters. I got to know Chicago better. Sure, I didn’t eat out or go shopping for new clothes. But I changed my attitude and actions and acted as if everything was all right, then realized it was.

How will I incorporate this discovery into 2011? I will remember that focusing on the present is just as important as focusing on the future. I will remember that things out of my control aren’t worth as much stress as I put into them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 23: New Name

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Promopt: Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why? (Author: Becca Wilcott)

I will not play this game. I like my name.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December 22: Travel

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Promopt: Travel How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? (Author: Tara Hunt)

Last night I heard about super sweet deal to Paris: roundtrip, direct to and from Chicago, for $550 — a steal. I emailed friends asking if I could visit over a weekend in March, and went to bed dreaming of breaking wine glasses in Seb's apartment, cooking curry with Ina and knocking on Loïc's door and demanding in person a reason for his silence to my countless emails over the past few months. I woke up. The tickets were gone. Back up to $900.

I was sad, but not too sad. Because I WILL see my friends in Paris again, even if it isn't this March. I don't know when it'll be, but it'll happen. And besides, I have another trip in the works in calendar year 2011, and that is to Australia and New Zealand. Once again, it's to visit friends.

These days, visiting friends is the only way I travel. We can catch up for a few days during my visit, and I have on-site tour guides who are always more than happy to show me their favorite places and neighborhoods. Since this time last year, I've visited friends in New Orleans, my sister in Seattle, friends in New York and met up with a couple on my trip to Missouri. It looks just like a list of places I've been, but every one of those trips was awesome in its own way. This is one reason why I need to get a better lens. So I can take pictures and show these experiences to people.

Another journalism fairy loses his wings

I found out via Facebook yesterday that yet another classmate from college lost his job. I didn’t know him or his work very well, but he was one of those reporters who always had a lot of my respect. One I assumed would weather all this out no matter what happened, because I thought he was just that good. That he would win awards and have bylines all over the news for years to come and retire old and such.

I don’t know what the circumstances are, but I can guess. His employer had no money left. He had to be let go. The fact that he lasted this long is a miracle. Yadda yadda yadda.

I have seen so many former classmates or colleagues I worked with at the university paper lose their jobs. Someone I once worked with recently left her reporting job to go to PR. Even though our professors told us this was the Dark Side (For realz. “Don’t go to the Dark Side.” “We shun graduates who go to the Dark Side.” Similar hogwash that no one listens to anymore etc.), I was so happy that she had such an opportunity. And by opportunity, I mean paycheck, stability, future and hope.

I don’t know what my purpose in writing about all this is. I guess it is just a way for me to publicly wonder what is happening to the industry that six years ago seemed just fine. It’s not a worry I have for myself. I’ll always want to write and will find a way to do it, and journalism or no journalism isn’t going to prevent that. My Bachelor's of Journalism degree was not worthless and I will never see it as that. I just don’t think I’ll tell my kids to get one.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 21: Future Self

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?) (Author: Jenny Blake)

My five-year plan involves seeing more of the world and doing something in my career or life that moves me closer to working in French or with something French-related. For 2011, I would stay "Betsy, you're on the right track! Keep it up!"

I'm a pretty driven and motivated person. If I set my mind to something, I'll do it. We'll see if I still have that drive five years from now.

And 10 years ago: You are not as good of a writer as you think you are.

December 20: Beyond Avoidance

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Beyond Avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?) (Author: Jake Nickell)

I didn’t take a real dance class this year (the Latin Rhythms class at my gym didn’t count since it was a lite old lady version), but I’ve already vowed to do that this year. So that doesn’t count.

My answer is something that is more of a long-termish goal, and that is to take an extended trip around the world. This isn’t something that I could have done last year or will be able to do in 2011. But it’s something that, over the past few months, I have started to think more seriously about doing. And once Amy and I put that world map up on my wall, and my friend Kevin posted this link on Facebook, I got to thinking even harder.

It’s really something I should do before I “settle down” or whatever it's called these days. Could I take a six months or a year off of life? Absolutely.

So once I have enough money saved for my Australia/New Zealand trip, I am going to start saving up for this. Could take me some time. But I’m only 24. As long as I do it before I’m 30, I think I’ll be content.

December 19: Healing

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011? (Author: Leonie Allan)

I rarely get sick (except when I got what I think was food poisoning on Sunday night, which is why I’m a little behind on these prompts). So I don’t need any healing right?

But if I could take this prompt in a little bit of a different direction, I think enrolling in French class has done a fair amount of “healing” for me. I enrolled in my weekly Alliance Française courses as soon as I got my job (re: could afford them). I usually take Thursday night classes, which always tends to be THE night when coworkers are grabbing drinks, the Chicagoist staff has their monthly happy hour or friends are meeting up for a trivia night. I love doing all those things. But I have this thing about missing French classes – it's something I don't do.

People always ask me if I’m fluent in French, and I never know what to say. Learning this language is a continuous and evolving process. I have worked really super unbelievably hard over the past however many years to learn it, and these classes help me not only keep up with it, but also learn more about what continues to be a boggling and complex language for me to wrap my head around.

See, I’m not good at learning another language. I took four years of French in high school only to be placed in FRENCH 1 after a placement exam before my first year of college. Part of that had to do with a pretty awful teacher. But part of it also had to do with my brain not retaining information very well. All throughout college, French was a struggle. When I studied abroad, which was five or six years after I had first step foot in a French class, I flailed. I couldn’t speak it.

Like I said, I've come a long way since then, and it’s taken work to get to where I am. There's a lot of French in my head, and I’m terrified of losing it. With my weekly classes, it’s nice to step into a no English zone for a couple hours a week. These classes remind me of how much I have learned and how much more I have to learn. This is the nourishment my brain needs to continue to grow and learn with a language I love.

December 18: Try

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it? (Author: Kaileen Elise)

Here are some things that I have been thinking about trying or have already started:

Getting to the top of the climbing wall
Harder in learning/maintaining my French
Standing up straight
Writing more
Thrifting more
Cooking soups
A dance class

December 17: Lesson Learned

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Lesson Learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward? (Author: Tara Weaver)

I have learned that I let petty things annoy me too much. I already knew this, but I am working on letting it bother me less. This is especially hard because anytime I am riding my bike, I am thinking about something petty that annoys me. I ride my bike to and from work, over an hour a day total. So that's a lot of mulling over petty things. But I find that if I spend a good deal of time thinking about being disgruntled about something, it's easier for me to soon forget it.

I am working on mantras: It's not that big of a deal. There are other things to worry about. When you've cooled down a bit, you can come back to it.

And I've also been doing yoga, pretty consistently once a week or twice if I can. I am hoping this helps, but I don't think it does (It's pretty much just helping me get closer to touching my toes and stand up straighter, but that's also something I need to work on, so that's just fine).

That's the best thing I learned.

I also learned that I have an unhealthy habit of yo-yoing between extreme fitness and complete lethargy. I began to understand this year that it's probably better for my physical and social health to run somewhere in between zero and 20 miles on a given Sunday, not one or the other.

I learned that it takes the same effort to be nice to someone as it does to be mean to them.

And this isn't so much about myself, but I learned how to be a damn good coupon clipper.

December 16: Friendship

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick)

I am always intrigued by friendship. You can spend years developing a close friendship with someone you see almost every single day, and the second one or both persons moves somewhere else, the friendship withers and dies (like some college friends). Or, you can have a short and brief period of friendship, and when you two part ways, you both try work very hard to maintain it (like some friends I met studying abroad). And then there's the we-only-talk-sometimes-and-it-doesn't-matter-how-far-away-from-each-other-we-are-or-when-we-see-each-other-next-we-always-will-be-friends friendships.

No friend has changed my perspective on the world this year. So instead I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about how grateful I am for one good friend.

I've hopped the fence at the LPD pool with John and dumped all the chairs in. I followed the Tour de France with his family a couple summers ago. At my birthday party, he got all my French friends to play Sardines. I can have fun anywhere with John, whether it's on the Eiffel Tower or in the grocery store. He makes a game out of everything and is never dull. We like to sit in the car with the doors closed and windows up and spray a whole bottle of Axe. Whoever opens the door first loses. It's called the Axe game. And besides from being fun to spend time with, he's a thoughtful and genuine guy. Here's a good example:

I get a phone call from John a few weeks ago, who lives in California, but is home for Thanksgiving.

"I am at the Lemont liquor store and they have tons of Four Loko. I'll buy it all, just say the word."

Instead of the whole store, he only buys me three cases, nearly $100 worth. I'll pay him back later. But, John is such a good friend he would buy a whole store of Four Loko for me. In my phone contacts, he is saved as John Good Friend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spread the Holiday Cheer

One of the Chicago coupon bloggers I follow is frugalista, who recently published a post titled “8 things you should do before the end of 2010 to save money.” She has some good tips, but one I couldn’t get too excited about was #4: Cut someone off your Christmas list. Well, I kind of agree. Frugalista suggests cutting someone such as your cousins’ niece’s husband. That makes sense. You don’t need to give every single one of your extended family a present, or even all your friends for them to know you care about them and love them.


People like frugalista and myself are couponers. And that means we save heaps of money on almost absolutely everything. I don’t keep track on how much I save, but here’s an example for you. I had a $60 purchase the other day at CVS that I got down to $3 thanks to all my coupons. On top of all the savings, there's all the stuff I get for absolutely free. That’s a lot of money saved in a calendar year.

Do you get where I am going here? If you’re saving hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars a year, I think you can afford to add someone to your Christmas list. But instead of a random relative, how about adding someone who makes a huge difference in your day-to-day life? Even just a $10 gift card is a nice gift, I think.

Here are some ideas of people it might be nice to thank with a little gift:

• the barista who hands you your coffee every morning
• your postman (mine sucks baguettes so is NOT getting an xmas gift from me, no absolutely most definitely not!)
• the admin at work who does all your expenses for you or schedules all your meetings
• your yoga teacher
• your bus driver
• your doorman

Got any others?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 15: 5 Minutes

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: 5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. (Author: Patti Digh) (I didn't understand this at first, but it means you are supposed to write for 5 minutes.

I will start by saying that this has been a really great year that completely fortified my decision to be in Chicago at this time and place in my life. I got a good job that paid me enough money to continue studying French, and even though I think about France all the time and how great it would be to be back there somedayish in the futurish, all the great experiences of this year are the reasons I should be here!

Where to start?

I automatically think to the summer, my favorite time of the year, where I went to a lot of music festivals. I’m not even that huge of a music person, but I love being outside among other hot and sweaty festival goers drinking and dancing and generally having a great time! This year topped all years for many reasons that I don’t have time to list in this short amount of time. But the festivals. Remember that they were great.

Remember that you met a lot of amazing people and solidified relationships with a lot others. Starting a book club helped (KKN I’m looking at you). So did getting out there and meeting people (hey D!). So did moving in with new roomies a few months ago (love you ladies and Maude!). The people of Chicago are what makes Chicago Chicago!

Also, you worked hard to try new things or more things of things you already liked this year, even if they were little things. Yoga, for example, which has really helped you focus a bit better and be a stronger person (kinda). You've been reading more, and although you could always read MORE than that, it’s been nice to get more books under your belt. And you worked to be a better writer, which is something that is a continuous and evolving process. But ever since you graduated, you have been angry at yourself for not writing more, but this year you cannot complain. You wrote a lot, and I expect to write more next year. Perhaps on this blog! Well, definitely here.

(ps why did I put in so many !!exclamation points!!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14: Appreciate

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Author: Victoria Klein)

Photo by Andrew Coulter Enright.

A few months ago, I was going through files on my computer and came across my “Job Hunt” folder; full of awful hopeless days hunched over the dining room table, dead-end interviews and flakey HR people. That folder has so many personalized resumes, cover letters and writing tests and samples. That folder is solely responsible for my butterflyish excitement every time my cell phone rang – could it be someone calling me to offer me a job or interview? Or was it my grandparents calling again wondering why a girl “so smart” couldn’t find a job? That folder was seven months of my life.

I appreciate my job every day, and if you are a human being who has lived on this earth sometime over the past two or three years, I don’t have to explain to you why. Furthermore, this is a job I actually wanted, one that helps me build my skill set and get me to the places I want to go. Those seven months weren’t wasted. They made me awesome at interviews and made me appreciate even more when I found one that was absolutely the perfect fit.

If I could answer this question twice, the second thing I appreciate greatly is my youth. How many 24 year olds do you know who have great jobs that align with their career goals? How many 24 year olds do you know who can siphon money off each month for a future vacation to the other side of the world? I love being young, how flexible my future is, where I’m going and who I will be when I get there.

Free Food Is Delicious Food

This morning, the wind chill was hovering around -8° F. I woke up at 4:35, willed myself out of bed, threw on four pairs of socks, three pants, five shirts (too many), double gloves, hat, balaclava, boots and helmet and biked the deserted streets of Chicago all in the name of 52 free breakfast sandwiches.

Einstein Brother's Bagels just opened a new location by my work, and I saw a promotion yesterday as I walked by: free breakfast for a year to the first 100 people in the door on December 14. On closer inspection, I saw that is was in fact 52 free breakfast sandwich vouchers. But that's still a lot of free breakfast. The only sucky part? Einstein's opens at 5:30 a.m.

Well. I like free stuff as much as the next person. In fact, I like it MORE. I am very serious about flying to Australia and New Zealand next fall or winter, and every penny towards that trip is gold. So that's why I was up at 4:35.

Since I was 3+ hours early for work, I swam a mile at the gym and filled my Amazon shopping cart with Christmas presents. It's still super early and I'm tired. But. At least I have 52 free breakfast sandwiches.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 13: Action

photo by Beatriz AG.

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen. What's your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)

I took a basic photography class my last year of college. My school let me borrow really fancy cameras and lenses for the weekend, and I would go around and shoot a bunch of stuff for my assignments. I finished the class with a pretty nice portfolio.

Then I got my very own fancy camera for graduation. Although I go through spurts of shooting a lot of pictures, I don’t as often as I should. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that the camera is bulky and awkward and doesn’t allow me to take up-close-and-personal photos of people and things.

I aspire to take more pictures, but I need a new lens. It would solve a lot of my problems. I have put off buying one for forever. So I am making it happen soon. I’ve been doing some research. I’ve narrowed it down. Now all I need to do is make the purchase.

And then I need to take some pictures.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 12: Body Integration (?)

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Body integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn't mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

If I were presently under the throes of marathon training, this would be easy. During those four months, my legs are moving so much that I can feel every single muscle even when I'm just sitting down. But I haven't been running much lately, so that's out.

But I did go to a few hot yoga classes. I don't know if my face dripping so much sweat that my glasses fell off my face is a "a cohesive YOU, alive and present" moment. But it was a moment when my mind was pretty aware of what I was making my body do. If I go into further detail about my yoga matt became a slip and slide, you'd get grossed out. I'm grossed out. So let's just end this now.

December 11: 11 Things

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

December 11 – 11 Things What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

Photo by imago.

1. Eating meat on Mondays and hopefully other days
2. Half assedness in French class and French studying
3. Negativity
4. Multitasking. Really it decreases productivity.
5. Eating a gazillion cookies and pieces of candy and slices of cake and other free sweets at work
6. Slouching
7. Holding grudges
8. My fear of dying my hair (I've always wanted to try a redish color)
9. Losing touch with faraway friends
10. Procrastinating redesigning my blog and/or having a personal website
11. My inability to touch my toes or do a handstand

Saturday, December 11, 2010

December 10: Wisdom

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Wisdom Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? (Author: Susannah Conway)

One of the wisest decisions I made this year was to not run the Chicago marathon. When registration for the raced opened in January for the race, I knew I needed to register immediately to guarantee myself a spot (even though the marathon isn't until October, it sells out pretty fast).

I've run three marathons in the past six years. I've told myself I'll stop once I make it to Boston, a marathon so popular and prestigious that all runners must qualify at a previous marathon. In other words, you have to run two marathons to run Boston.

Like I said, I've run three, and I'm ready to get this Boston race under my belt. So if I were to have run the Chicago marathon, I would have tried to qualify. Which means I would have had to cut off 20 minutes from my best time — entirely doable with a lot of hard work, running a gazillion miles, healthy eating and absolutely no alcohol for 4 months.

I'm going to do it someday. Maybe next year. But this year wasn't the year for me. The bulk of my training would have been over the summer, and I ultimately decided it wasn't worth forfeiting my first real summer in the city for a race I have my whole life to run.

So I didn't enter. And this was wise. Because I had a great summer. The kind of summer that 145 percent reinforced my decision to live my 20s in Chicago. A summer of late nights and drinking and not exercising much and music festivals and general all around fun; a million things I would not have experienced had I been staying in every Friday to wake up early to run 20 miles the next day.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

December 9: Party

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

December 9 – Party Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. (Author: Shauna Reid)

I'll start off by saying that my track record for parties hasn't been exactly stellar. Take my 21st birthday, for example, the ultimate party of all parties. Only two friends came. It was soul crushing.

I have since overcome my fear of throwing parties. It hasn’t been an easy path – attendance was low at a game night party last fall and I was left with an entire pot of chili – but I have learned along the way that having a successful party is all about quality over quantity. That being said, quality AND quantity in one room makes for a great party. And my roommates and I had one of those Halloween weekend.

There are a lot of reasons this was a good party. My mummy hot dogs were a hit. I had one of the best costumes I have ever had in my entire life. All my favorite people came. Good music, good times, good stories to tell later on. Great decorations thanks to my aunt.

Describing how much fun a party was to those who weren't there doesn't accomplish much, since all great parties are pretty much the same. So I'll end this here. But it was great, and this song will always remind me of it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

December 8: Beautifully Different

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different - you'll find they're what make you beautiful.

This prompt kinda rubs me the wrong way. Doesn't everyone want to believe that he or she is different than all the rest? Of course. We all do. That's why some of us wear wacky glasses or throw mustache parties or travel to Croatia solo. Or run marathons or sometimes dance in front of the mirror when we're alone or casually slip in that we've lived in Paris whenever it's pertinent (or not).

Those are things that I've done that are a bit different, but I definitely don't think these actions make me differently beautiful or beautifully different or whatever than the next person.

To say that I am different means I must compare myself to someone who is not. Someone who is undifferent, who is boring, who is normal. While I definitely think these people exist — I interact with them daily and shhh… I probably judge them — it is really not my place to say "I am different because I do these things that this person does not do." I really think claiming myself as different is a lousy way to make myself feel like more of a person than I really am.

When it comes down to it, we're people. We have different motivations for doing certain things or feeling certain ways or dressing in certain clothes. Maybe I wear these glasses because I think they define my personality, because I think they will make me stand out in a crowd or because I really want to look like a Mad Men character. Maybe it doesn't really matter.

Maybe we should stop trying to be so unique and different from each other and just do things that make us happy, no matter how those actions measure up to the actions of our neighbors. If we keep trying to be so very hard to be different all the time, we are all going to end up being the same.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

December 7: Community

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

Early this year, I joined the staff at this little blog called Chicagoist. People tend to think this is a bigger deal than it really is. We joke about the Chicagoist office, which doesn’t exist. The editor-in-chief works from home and the rest of the staff posts around the schedules of our other jobs. I get paid $0 to write each and every post. Journalism school taught me that writing for free is one of the worst sins one could ever commit. But I’m obviously not there for the cash. I’m there for lots of things, and one of them is the community.

The Chicagoist staff is just a group of people who love Chicago to death and want to share that with the rest of the world. We each write about our own passions, maybe music, sports, politics, food, or in my case, literary this-and-that. We share content ideas over a listserv. It sounds pretty mundane. And in many ways it is. But these people do bring great joy to my life.

I appreciate how much everyone cares about our city. If there’s something particularly disturbing happening in the news today, I can expect upwards of 50 emails in my inbox from fellow staff members getting riled up. I’ll have the same amount of emails over less dramatic topics, such as where to find the best Mexican food in Chicago or where it might be fun to gamble in the city should casinos be allowed in.

I’m closer with some staff members over others, but I’ll generally say it’s a good group of people. On the rare occasion that I can make it out to one of the monthly happy hours to see everyone, I am always really glad I did. These people are always reminding me of why I love this city. That’s a great community if I ever saw one.

Monday, December 06, 2010

December 6: Make

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

This is a hard question for me, because I don't really make anything. I make sentences I guess. I make my bed sometimes. I make muffins out of old and brownish bananas. And lately I've been making Crock Pot creations such as chicken and wild rice soup, pulled pork and chicken tacos.

So yeah, I don't really know how to respond to this prompt because I'm not a maker. There are things I have thought about learning to make, such as my own clothes or my own website. But these things would require a lot of time and would take away from other talent or hobbies I enjoy more.

There is one thing I am good at making however, and that is money. Well really, I am good at saving money. I got on this couponing kick when I was half-employed and now I can't pay full price for anything. I paid $2.49 for 24 photo Christmas cards including shipping. I paid $15 for a $70 pair of eyeglasses. Once I get some rebate checks in the mail, I will have made $5 on a bottle of organic shampoo and $10 on some body wash.

I am boring myself now. I look forward to tomorrow's prompt.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

December 5: Let Go

Photo by by ginatrapani.

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

I let go of about a gazillion virtual friends this year. I don't know how I came to have so many on Facebook, but it had come time to whittle it down. The rules were simple. If I do not even know who you were, I deleted you. If I only met you once or twice and we never spoke again, I deleted you. If you were a giant a-hole to me and I was only Facebook friends for who even knows why, I deleted you. That included people that I used to be friends with or people I used to live with. The a-holiness was automatic delete delete delete.

I got rid of 200-300 in a couple hours of purging.The initial reasoning was to keep my online self a little bit more private. As I kept erasing people from my life, I was kind of freaked out by how many I had let in.

In fact, it wasn't easy to delete everyone. Some, like the a-hole people, were obvious and painless. But to cut off your one and only tie with someone is a scary thing to do. I told myself it was okay if If I hadn't talked to these people in years. Once I deleted them, I felt better. It's like donating clothes to a thrift store. Once you get them out of your house, you completely forgot you ever had them.

December 4: Wonder

Photo by bbaltimore.

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

I begin my response to this question with a snippet of a gchat conversation with a friend:

Kevin: dude
I love snow
every year
moi: me too
Kevin: I love living in the midwest even more
I don't know why
it's a dump here
but whatever
moi: the changing of the seasons is nice
Kevin: word
moi: something new every few months
Kevin: even the super crazy cold part of winter
I don't really mind
moi: something to look forward to

The seasons cultivate a sense of wonder in me. They never fail to do so. Yesterday I woke up and literally screamed "IT'S SNOWING!!" as if I had never seen snow before in my life. It snows every single year. But it's no matter. I love the sense of wonderment that comes with a new season, even if I've been expecting it.

Our day-to-day to lives will be the same, but the cycle of snow, rain, blossoms, green, warm colors of leaves, dead leaves and then all over again makes every single day a little bit different.

Friday, December 03, 2010

December 3: Moment

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

When I saw this prompt, I immediately thought of one moment in which I cannot describe the texture, smell, voices, noises or colors. I thought of every time I am driving on I-55 as it becomes Lake Shore Drive and see the skyline of Chicago.

Every time I see this panoramic shot I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. I feel like the skyscrapers – these Chicago ones in particular – offer so much hope. As if these sturdy buildings will give me something to lean on anytime I might be apprehensive about the future. That something good is going to happen soon because I am in a comfortable place that I am proud to be from and proud to live in. That I have left anything unknown behind me on I-55 because I am coming home.

I feel like I have talked ad naseum about my decision to leave France and come back to Chicago, but I am going to come back to it again. I remember driving into the city shortly after I returned, and this jolly feeling of coming home being a gazillion times more powerful because a familiar song was playing on the radio. I don’t know what the song was. But it was one that I knew, and that felt great. Understanding the language in a different country is such a small small very small (although kind of big) piece of feeling like you belong there. There's so much more to it than that.

Knowing a song by heart that was a huge hit in the ‘90s, the one you put on mix tapes and the one that every time it comes on the radio, every single person present knows all the words by heart, too, and will randomly burst out into singing the lyrics… that is feeling like you belong in a place. I never had that in France. I wasn’t a ‘90s child in France. I was a ‘90s child here. This song was one of those, and although I was alone in the car on Lake Shore driving against the backdrop of the skyline of Chicago as I bust out singing the words, it felt really good to belong with every single person here.

Lessons Learned in French Class

I’m ashamed of myself for not putting as much effort as I should be into French class. I am paying a lot of money to take these classes and am not learning as much as I can because I don’t réviser enough. So for this session, I decided I would take my homework a lot more seriously.

For my first assignment, to write a little biography of myself, I sought out the native French eye from multiple friends to help me find mistakes in grammar and spelling. After correcting errors in almost every single sentence, I was proud to finally print off the four paragraphs and know they were the best they could be. I was ready to bring my homework to class and show it off.

Except our teacher wasn’t there. Even worse, the substitute was a teacher I H-A-T-E, she didn’t even mention the homework, and really I dislike her teaching style for many, many other reasons. I tried to sit through class, but knew after five minutes I had to get out of there. I stomped out as gracefully and cheerfully as possible, but I was fuming. A. I worked hard on this homework for nothing. B. That sub is the absolute worst and everyone knows it, so why in the world would the Alliance Française even let her take the class and just waste everyone’s time?

As I rode my bike home, I thought more about it. I was wrong about both A and B. For A: I did not work really hard on my homework for my class or for my teacher. I worked hard on it for myself, to improve my own French. As an added bonus, I got to reach out to some of my French friends whom I haven’t stayed in as good of touch with as I should have. I really appreciated the time they put in to help me out, and I hope I can return the favor. Physically handing in my homework didn’t matter for any of that. For B: I forget that I’m dealing with the French here. How many times were my classes in France – both when I was taking them at the university level and teaching them at a primary school – randomly canceled with no explanation? Americans expect a certain level of communication and I-have-to-know-every-single-thing-that-is-going-on-ever for every aspect of their lives and the French are just like “Meh. Guess the teacher didn’t show, I’m going to go drink an espresso.”

So, aside from working harder to learn more in French class, I need to work harder to remember the lessons I already learned in France. Mainly, don’t get stressed out about it, because it isn’t that big of a deal.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

December 2: Writing

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Writing. What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it?

This is a pretty easy one. It starts with an "I" and ends in "nternet."

It's so easy to get distracted when I hit a tough patch in my writing. Especially when every single word could be a tough patch – that's a lot of opportunities to get distracted! I've been trying to work on this lately, but it's a challenge. At my job (I'm a copywriter), I sometimes really need to force myself to finish a sentence before looking up something kind-of-not-really related that might help me gain more insight about the topic at hand.

Another thing that prevents me from writing more is fear. I always think I have nothing good to write about. It's one reason I don't write more here. For every post you see on this blog, there are probably three others I started writing and deleted because I thought they sucked.

Fear affects my writing outside of this blog, too. I've thought a lot about freelancing for various publications in Chicago, but haven't pursued it. I don't think I have enough good ideas or don't think I'll do a good enough job. I think I don't have time. I think it's too hard.

The "too hard" part really kills me. Since when did I not do something that was too hard? Especially after I read this article on freelancing today:
Freelancing is that remarkable stretch from February to December 2009, where I wrote entire features… using only my phone, a first-generation iPhone jailbroken for T-mobile, bought for $100 from a friend at Mac Week. That was because my computer had broken and I couldn't afford a replacement.
Really? If that guy can do it, then so can I! (Although he could have used the computers at the public library for free.)

Can I eliminate the Internet and fear? No, not really. But I can try harder not to let these things get muddled up in my writing, for sure. Absolutely. No doubt about it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

December 1: One Word

I'm participating in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here.

Prompt: Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)


Sometime this year, I became an adult in the most correct way possible. I guess it has something to do with getting a full-time job. It was the biggest correct thing I did.

So is paying my rent on time, volunteering a couple hours a week, donating a little bit of money each month to a reputable organization, continuing studying French, being generally nice to people, eating fruits and vegetables and getting a healthy amount of exercise as well as sleep. Responsible, correct adults do those things.

All year I have been working to be a correct person in all of the ways above, and I have been doing a pretty good job. And I am proud of that. It is not easy to balance the correctness of adulthood. I am making myself grow up and that is good.

But as I strive to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that in the most correct way possible, I think I’m missing something. Like there’s a part of me that won’t let me drink too many glasses of wine after a stressful day. Or I’m not changing enough lives via my volunteering and charitable donations. Or that my steady routine of swim 2x yoga 2x a week is not challenging me enough. And that I go to French class every Thursday, but don’t work as hard as I should.

Maybe it’s passion that’s missing, or maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment. I have racked up a lot of accomplishments over the past few years, but this past year was meh in comparison. Do I need to stop comparing myself to myself? Or should I just put myself to shame and do something BIG?

I’ll probably do the second one.

This next year I will work harder to be better than correct. I need to start and finish something I can be proud of. The word that I would like to capture 2011 is complete. Watch out, because I might run 10 marathons or something.

Fighting my American Gene

As an American, I was blessed with the desire find ways to obtain nicer and newer things than those I already had. Both times I was living in France, I scoffed at the Americaness of it. And when I'm here, I always find myself slipping into the same old habit.

Like when I bought this coat last Friday. I don't need a new coat. I have three coats. But it was 50% off and I really liked it. So I snatched it up along with a million other things and swiped my credit card without a second thought.

And then I did think about it. I was so angry at myself for buying it. It wasn't about spending the money. It was about adding to my pile of possessions. What was I doing, buying something I didn't need? Especially after I've vowed to myself a million times not to do that?

It took fortitude, but I returned it. You'd think I would have immediately felt better as soon as I handed the coat back to the saleswoman. But I didn't really. I liked the coat a lot. I would have worn it. I wanted to own it. But I didn't need to own it. I'm sure the longer I held onto it, the easier it would have been to accept that the coat needed to be in my life. But I didn't want that to happen. So the coat had to go.

Bye bye coat. We were never going to work out.